Family and personal tragedy prepares Occupational Therapy graduate for career serving others

Maggie Grayson moved to Colorado to pursue her master’s degree after earning her bachelor’s in psychology from Keene State College. When she was applying to grad school, she came to visit CSU.

Grayson loved the close-knit community between students, the academic excellence of the program, and the way that the Department of Occupational Therapy organized their fieldwork program. The beauty of the area also made an impression on her.

“I could see myself living here after I finished the program, and I instantly fell in love with Colorado and the CSU campus,” said Grayson. “I could see myself building a life in this beautiful state.”

A family tragedy

During her first year of graduate school, Grayson lost two very important people in her life, her uncle and her grandmother. Both deaths were devastating for her family, but when her grandmother fell and broke her hip in Spring 2018, it led to a host of medical problems that she battled for about three months before passing away.

Grayson and her grandmother stand in front of flowering bushes.
Grayson and her grandmother.

“As a granddaughter, a daughter, and an emerging healthcare professional, this was very hard for me,” shared Grayson. While she wanted to be with her family and help advocate for her grandmother, she was over 1,000 miles away.

Grayson remembers her professor saying, “Do what you need to do to be there for your family, we’ll figure it out when you get back.”

When she heard her grandmother had taken a turn for the worse right before finals week, Grayson approached her instructor, Natalie Perkins, and told her what was going on. Perkins let Grayson change the date of her exam so she could fly home and be with her grandmother before her summer fieldwork began.

“I’m so thankful for her understanding, because I was able to see my grandma, hold her hand, and just be there for her before she passed away about a month later,” said Grayson.

Grayson says this experience will help her in the future when interacting with clients and their families. The ability to truly empathize and the desire to help them as much as possible during this transitional period will ensure Grayson is able to serve people and their loved ones to her fullest potential.

Her personal recovery

During the first week of March 2019, Grayson slipped on an icy curb that was buried in snow and hit her head on the pavement. It resulted in a concussion that made it difficult for Grayson to function as a student.

“It’s kind of crazy, because throughout the OT program we have learned about brain injury and how to address it with our clients,” explained Grayson. “I knew what was happening to me and I knew what I should and should not be doing. I tried to take the advice I would give to a future client and discovered that it was super hard.”

Grayson added that since students in particular are on their computers all of the time for their classes, it made managing her head injury incredibly difficult. She took measures by wearing a baseball cap to decrease the effect of the light, taking notes by hand in class, printing out her reading assignments, and making sure to get a lot of sleep. With the support she was given and the knowledge she’d gained through her courses, Grayson has been steadily getting better.

Life changing experiences

Grayson tries to involve herself in the Department of Occupational Therapy as much as she can, including an officer position with the Student Occupational Therapy Association. SOTA encourages students to engage in professional development, and is a great avenue to get to know classmates and peers, especially for students who have just entered into the program.

“I love that in SOTA, we act as a support system for each other. Grad school can be tough at times, and I hope that I have provided at least a little reassurance and a listening ear when needed,” said Grayson.

Grayson standing among red Japanese arches.Grayson was also very involved in the cultural exchange with the program’s sister school in Japan, Yamagata Prefectural University of Health Sciences. She had the opportunity to go to Japan last fall with a small group of fellow classmates, faculty, and staff. While in Japan, she was able to present on her work with OT Professor Aaron Eakman about the student veteran experience at CSU.

“Most importantly though, I will never forget the kindness of our hosts, and the amazing experiences they planned for us. It truly changed me forever,” said Grayson.

She adds that she would not be where she is today without her classmates, professors, and the OT department as a whole.

“They are the best support system I could have ever asked for,” said Grayson. “I’ll miss the people here so much. Our program is full of such amazing people. I am so excited to see what each one of them will accomplish, because I know they will make a difference wherever they land.”

After completing her fieldwork this summer at The Medical Center of Aurora in their inpatient acute rehab, Grayson plans to take a 3-week backpacking trip in Europe while waiting for her board results and license to be approved to work in the state of Colorado.

The Department of Occupational Therapy is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.